Born at a New York petting zoo, George’s life began on display. Few can resist squealing over baby animals, and George was no exception: the runt of the litter was so tiny and cute that people jumped at the chance to see him up close. But despite all of the eyes on George and his family, few noticed how much he suffered in plain sight.

Thankfully, one zoo-goer saw George as an individual…not entertainment. This recognition saved his life, and brought him to Farm Sanctuary.

George with his much larger litter-mates at the petting zoo.

George wasn’t like the rest of his siblings. At four months old, he only weighed 7 pounds—the equivalent of a week-old piglet. He couldn’t compete with the others for food, and had trouble putting on weight. To add insult to injury, he was sick from pneumonia and parasites, and lacked the energy to do much more than survive.

George needed help. Sadly, his “owner” deemed him a lost cause, and left him there to die. Without urgent medical care—and with subfreezing temperatures on the horizon—George wouldn’t have much time left.

Subfreezing temperatures left George on the brink of death.

Unfortunately, this level of care—or lack thereof—is standard on working farms and petting zoos across the country. Farmers have to make profit to survive—and in many cases, treatment costs can exceed an animal’s economic value. In these situations, farmers often opt to save money by culling or leaving these animals to die. But it’s not just the weak who are risk: farm work is seasonal, so farmers discard even the healthiest animals once they feel they’ve served their purpose. In other words, once these cute baby animals grow up, most face slaughter for meat.

To these farmers, one piglet—one life—doesn’t make a difference; thankfully, George’s rescuer felt otherwise. After seeing George huddled and shivering in the corner of the barn, she asked the petting zoo owner if she could take George home. The farmer said that George would likely die, so she could “go ahead.”

George’s rescuer took him to Cornell University’s Nemo Farm Animal Hospital. At first, his prognosis looked grim. He had a bad case of pneumonia, with fluid filling the front part of his lungs; every labored breath brought him closer to drowning. He also had Balantidium coli—a highly contagious parasite of the intestinal tract. This disease can also spread to humans, particularly the very young, elderly, or others with compromised immune systems. This means that anyone at the petting zoo could have gotten sick.

When George first arrived at Farm Sanctuary, he acted passive and lethargic; healthy piglets are generally very robust and resistant to medical intervention. As soon as his antibiotics began kicking in, though, George finally began feeling like himself…for the first time in his life.

Once too weak to stand, George grew stronger and more active by the day. He also became more talkative and playful—delighting everyone around him with happy grunts and exuberant “zoomies” around his pen! George also developed an appetite, and finally began putting on weight. While he’ll likely always stay small compared to other pigs, George already has a giant personality.

The difference between Farm Sanctuary and petting zoos like his former home is that all interactions here are on George’s terms. He is here with us—not for us. And this little rock star has a big life ahead of him—one in which he will never again face exploitation or neglect. We see you, George…and we are so happy to know you.